6 Mar 2010

Show and tell

Once upon a time when everything was still black and white:

A 40 year-old snap of the author posing on his 60 year-old Dursley Pedersen (30+ miles a day) commuting machine. It brings a whole new meaning to surf hair styles. Or was it "serf" back then? ;-)

Sorry to disappoint, at least some of you, but I'll be discussing adult, pedal-driven tricycles and a few rather unusual bikes. Nothing about immature adults riding children's tricycles for fun or sport. Nor anything about motorcycles converted to trikes. Upright trikes are a rare enough beast to warrant at least some curiosity. Hopefully the following chapters will provide some of the reasons why people choose to ride upright trikes. The racing and touring upright trike has its own beauty. It has the same long-legged look of a thoroughbred race horse or slender greyhound before it even moves an inch. The graceful ballet of the rider as they move their weight around on the machine is a vital necessity to balance out the ever-changing forces during cornering. It is this which makes trikes so much fun to ride.

Riding a trike is a constant search for potential obstacles ahead. Corners must be carefully judged along with their camber and the speed of the trike. Where the cyclist would be on auto pilot the triker has to watch for every change of camber and  changing road surface ahead. Three tracks must always be allowed for instead of just one. One cannot swerve effortlessly around an obstacle on the road as one can on a bike.  It takes time to develop the necessary skills. Even when the white-knuckled days are over one still cannot take anything for granted. This may not appeal to all but it gives the trike rider a real sense of fun during a ride. The constant small rewards for achievements in cornering well are totally absent when riding a bike.

What really hones trike riding skills is the traffic. If one had free use of the entire width of the road life would be so much easier and possibly more boring. The traffic forces the tricyclist into a narrow lane at the edge of the road where most of the surface damage and endlessly changing camber are situated. One is always aware of being perched on an unstable machine which is usually moving too quickly to make slow decisions. So riding a trike is never boring. It is difficult to describe in ways which others would easily understand. One is always acutely aware of movement and the wheels turning on the road surface beneath you. Rather like the difference between riding a soap box compared with a bicycle in your childhood. I find the compensations greatly outweigh the few disadvantages. This will be discussed at much greater length in later chapters.  

I seem to have amassed a collection of digital photographs of a variety of tricycles (and some interesting bikes) and would like to share them with a wider public. Browsing online around the subject of tricycles is a rather poor indoor sport with remarkably few direct hits. Only the TA (Tricycle Association) offers lots of images of "real" trikes actually being raced seriously. Yet not one single video of an upright trike appears on YouTube as far as my humble search abilities would suggest. (Happily this is no longer true!) By "real" I simply mean those with full sized wheels. Like a "normal" racing or touring, two wheeled bike. "Real" is certainly not intended as a derogatory term for any other kind of trike. Most of which I admire in one way or another. With the exception of children's trikes. Which are completely irrelevant to serious adult transport in a time when the world is seeking far less damaging ways of getting around.

Here is where the really serious tricyclists meet the internet:


Their website has dozens of pictures and articles on tricycling.

Back click to return here when you have finished browsing.

One should also not forget these Belgian enthusiasts:

Their fascinating website may contain the only online videos of upright, delta trikes actually moving! The links are endless and well worth the full tour to enjoy the many illustrations.

Keep an eye open for the WTU. The World Tricycle Union is being assembled by the two organisations mentioned above to promote tricycling worldwide.


Tricycle News

It is hoped that eventually there will be a national WTU Correspondent for every country in the world. This person will become the national contact for publicising and sharing information on the pleasures and benefits of trikes and triking. The social aspect of triking and competitive riding for the able bodied and handicapped will all be covered. I believe the emphasis will be on upright trikes rather than recumbents. The latter are largely ignored by the international road racing and track racing fraternity. (as are upright trikes for that matter). The recumbents now compete under their own umbrella organisations. Just as upright trikes compete on their own. Usually in road time trials. The Belgians have a gently banked track which they hope to use for tricycle track events. Road races for trikes are also arranged and include a world championships.

Denmark is off to a good start with Alan Schmidt as national Correspondent for the WTU.  Alan has competed on his racing trike all over Europe with considerable success. He's still winning in 2010!  3 x 1st places and overall winner at Bilbao! Well done, Alan!

Alan's website is here:


Check out Alan's pictures. (BTW: Billeder = Pictures in Danish) There are some fascinating racing trikes shown competing. Some really beautiful delta trikes are being built now.

No doubt more information will be forthcoming on the WTU as the various parts fall into place and the organisation gathers momentum. Perhaps when they gain sufficient authority, by sheer weight of of numbers, they can begin to limit the damage caused by the committee for daft new rules for handicapped tricycle racing. What's next? Compulsory air bags? ;-)

Meanwhile: Back at the bike shed:

Some 1100 of my 20,00+ images on my hard drive are of trikes and bikes photographed on the streets of Denmark and a few in England. I carry a compact digital camera with me everywhere these days and simply cannot pass any trike in the street without taking a few images. Some are of cargo trikes or child carriers or invalid tricycles but I don't really mind which. There is something about trikes which sparks my curiosity. These machines always show considerable ingenuity. Well beyond that of the stamped-out, biscuit-cutter, two wheel norm at any price level. You've seen one bike and you've pretty well seen them all. Not so with trikes. Though almost all three-wheelers are certainly not cheap when bought new. Many seem to hold their price quite well too on the secondhand market. Which probably extends their useful life provided they hold up cosmetically. Cosmetic rust is, unfortunately, rather too commonplace on steel components. Greater use of light alloys on more modern machines certainly helps here. Maintaining a much more "as new" appearance with very little care or attention.

I have been fascinated by (adult) pedal tricycles since I owned an old touring tricycle back in my early 20s. I used my trike daily to commute over a hilly route between two English towns about fifteen miles apart. This trike had adjustable chain stays, via nickel plated screwed sleeves, to allow tightening of the chain with a single fixed (or free) wheel. Once adjusted, clamps ensured the chainstays remained at a fixed length. Some trikes had a an eccentric bottom bracket shell (like some tandems) to allow chain tension adjustments but not mine.

As built, this trike was strictly one wheel, fixed wheel drive on the UK nearside. i.e. Left hand drive. A feature which was intended to constantly lift the machine and its rider out of the gutter as only the wheel nearest the gutter is driven. This "lopsided" drive provides a constant bias away from the verge or kerb. Rather than forcing the rider down the road camber and off the side of the road straight onto the nettles. This is, unfortunately, the natural behaviour of any tricycle ridden by the novice used to riding on only two wheels. A couple of week's experience will reduce this tendency to an occasional scare. Particularly when the road camber becomes terrifyingly vertiginous at exactly the same moment that a 10 wheeler, articulated lorry wants to pass at high speed in a narrow lane!

GPS has much to answer for! Particularly with many foreign lorry drivers employ a cheap, car type of GPS model instead of one programmed specifically for large vehicles. The car GPS devices completely ignore the size and type of road in its desire to get the owner to their destination ASAP! Fords, narrow lanes, gravel tracks, industrial estates, cycle lanes and school playing fields are all fair game to the car GPS. With all the consequent damage and noise this entails for those unfortunate to live on an unlikely GPS rat run. One which would never have been used by non-local traffic prior to GPS and its corrupting influence on traffic flow patterns. Personally, I'd ban having any screen visible to the driver. Today's motorist has enough distractions with their mobile phone, adjusting the car car audio, smoking, eating a takeaway and reading the paper simultaneously to be further burdened with looking at a tiny GPS screen as well. "Sorry mate, I didn't see you!" has taken on yet another new meaning.

The experienced tricyclist prefers to ride slightly higher on the road camber than a typical bi-cyclist. Fortunately the extra width makes the trike (or more likely its rider) look quite vulnerable. Drivers usually give a trike a much wider berth than they do a bike. Perhaps they don't want to scratch their shiny paintwork by driving too closely to such an unlikely object? Fear of the unknown? For whatever reason let's just be grateful we are not dismissed by drivers as just another bike. Rather than a flesh and blood living and breathing person as we all are.

Slow speed means low status in the world of the motor car. Needing to slow down for anything (at all) is an anathema to the motorist. Yet the driver has the powerful engine he deliberately chose to buy to accelerate him back to his normal cruising speed. All it takes is a gentle press with a foot on the pedal. While the real pedal pusher has to exert constant and considerable effort to maintain any speed at all! To be forced to travel slowly behind a bike, trike or other slow moving vehicle is like some sort of torture for the car owner. Not to mention the infamous White Van Man! Yet when they arrive at their destination time no longer has any real value to them. Very odd.

Meanwhile, back in the last century: I fitted my first trike's fixed wheel sprocket carrier with a 5 speed gear block and then added a rear dérailleur gear shifter. The monstrous hills on my daily commute sometimes felt like Tour De France mountain stages after a day's work. Though the cars which overtook me in the first city were always overtaken by me when I arrived in the traffic jams in the next. You get used to seeing the same vehicles every day so they become almost familiar. Only the building of an immensely expensive bypass for a small town bang in the middle of our route sped things up enough to leave me well behind on the road. Until, that is, I reached the second city and again I overtook them as they sat in the daily traffic queues. Some of them tried to deliberately block my progress but few succeeded for long. I wonder whether anything has really changed 40 years later? Do reasonably fit cyclists (and tricyclists) still beat the cars between the centres of those two cities?

My old trike had 27 x 1.1/4" high pressure tyres on steel rims without rear brakes. As an experiment I tried side pull brakes on a bar fixed across the rear stay triangle but this tended to lock the rear wheels far too easily. So I quickly removed the contraption. Then I fitted a centre pull brake in front and and a side pull brake to the rear of the front fork crown for the duration of my ownership. Two front brakes is a fairly standard set-up for many delta trikes to this day. BTW: Delta refers to a two wheels at the rear with a single front wheel. By contrast, a tadpole trike has two front wheels and a single rear wheel. More of this later.

Getting the rear wheels off this old trike was a case of brute strength and careful leverage between the hub and the outboard bearing cup. I hadn't even heard of hub extractor tools back then. This trike had tapered, solid steel axles with machined hexagons to the axle ends to ensure drive to the small flange, steel hubs. The rear axle bearings were typical bottom bracket cups and cones with loose, uncaged balls. Careful adjustment and frequent lubrication ensured quiet operation for most of the time.

Sadly I do not have a single picture of my old trike. This was prior to photography becoming marginally affordable and Kodak safely consigned to the lower status of relabelling cheap, Chinese, digital cameras. The maker of my trike was unknown since the frame had been repainted so often and the head tube badge was absent on purchase. It's a shame that maker's name and date of manufacture weren't required to be indelibly punched into the bottom bracket shell on all bikes and trikes. Imagine how different the world would be if somebody had decided a thousand years ago to clearly date absolutely everything ever made.

I broke one of the chain stays of my trike by carrying 1 cwt (112 lbs) of damp sand in a cardboard drum resting on the curved reinforcing bars at the centre of the rear axle. Fifteen miles carrying such a weight up and down the horrendous hills on my daily commuting route was truly unkind and I was duly punished for it. Without a clue how to get it mended cheaply I sold the trike equally cheaply. Had I not been so short sighted I might have tricycled without a pause over the ensuing decades.

At least some of you must be wondering why I went into the pedal driven, sand delivery business... Well, I had become a Hifi fanatic and desperately needed sand to make a sand-filled corner speaker baffle. Working six days a week with commuting on top removed all chance of obtaining sand from any of the local builders merchants. For some weeks I would go to the local park on Sunday and stare longingly at the golf course bunkers but just couldn't bring myself to steal any. Perhaps it was all the dogs who were let loose in this area which put me off.  By a terrifying coincidence, a sand importer loomed large right behind my place of work. There were also lots of large cardboard storage drums freely available. You do the maths.. ;-)

The broken trike was quickly replaced by an original Dursley Pedersen. Bought as a bare frameset and forks from an elderly colleague. Once rebuilt with what I considered suitably "period" parts the Pedersen became my means of transport between home and work. It managed the 30 miles a day, six days a week, with me sitting bolt upright in all weathers, for quite some time. Until I sold it for a very good price via the Exchange and Mart. To buy more Hifi! I obviously wasn't a quick learner.

Fortunately I had the presence of mind to take some snaps of my Dursley Pederen.

Here is a modern replica of the Dursley Pedersen. The original bikes had a woven string hammock seat. Mine was literally in tatters so I had to weave my own out of bright orange, nylon, crab fishing line! Well, I coveted one of the new plastic, orange Unica Nitor saddles of the time and it seemed like a good idea! Designed like a girder bridge the Pedersen was as light as many modern bikes when first made in 1897! The thin, twinned steel tubes were soft soldered into the cast, brass lugs. The ingenious inventor was Danish but lived in Gloucestershire in England. His remains were moved back to Dursley when it was discovered that he had been buried in a pauper's grave on his death in Denmark. A brilliant mind but a poor businessman he had several inventions to his name.

A stainless steel, shaft drive Pedersen with a big rusty bell. I wonder whether the irony appealed to the owner? Not easy to photograph in a pile of mixed bikes outside a busy supermarket.

This Pedersen bottom bracket assembly must contain a pair of bevel gears. Most Pedersens are chain driven and some originals had an early hub gear.

Here is a link to bathe in real cycling nostalgia without the usual weight handicap of that golden era:

Dursley Pedersen Bicycle Homepage - The ultimate site of Dursley Pedersen cycles

I miss both machines, to this day, some four decades later. One learns the hard way that if one owns something so unique and precious one should sell one's soul first. Rather than part with something one already owns just to afford something else. Greater wealth in later life will never recapture the priceless treasures of one's youth. Nor can one, in retrospect, place great wisdom on young and impoverished shoulders .

Here's an odd bike obviously inspired by the original Pedersen.

Click on any image for a larger version. Back click to return to the blog.

Try reloading the page occasionally to ensure you see the latest version. I am an inveterate modifier. Even of blogs



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    Handicapped Tricycle

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  3. Hey, very nice site. I came across this on Google, and I am stoked that I did. I will definitely be coming back here more often. Wish I could add to the conversation and bring a bit more to the table, but am just taking in as much info as I can at the moment. Thanks for sharing.
    Hand Driven Tricycle

    Keep Posting:)

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